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Conspicuous Consumption

Food and drink has the ability to connect directly with an audience, and there are so many options

In the last 18 months, we’ve all felt the need to say thank you, indulge others (and ourselves) in some delectable treats and the world of gifting has taken off. With some of the industry’s finest rushed off their feet producing a range of sweet treats and wholesome delights, end users have discovered new ways to bring their brands to life through food and confectionery.

Celebrating the innovation and enterprise that didn’t stop during lockdowns, this special feature explores the adjustments, focus and expectations across this sector. While business has been booming in the UK, the challenges faced after the UK’s exit from the EU brought some unforeseen customs challenges never experienced before, leading some manufacturers to temporarily suspend or cease trading with certain parts of Europe whilst new rules took effect.

The advent of personalisation several years ago has pushed this sector into the spotlight, affording companies new ways to explore branded goodies, and planet friendly expectations are now at the forefront of helping this category grow in popularity. And it’s not just ingredients that are expected to pass the sustainable test, it’s packaging and production too. PM has been discovering just how many manufacturers have not only been quietly developing brilliant ranges, they have been overhauling packaging and production for fully sustainable operations. 

POWER OF THE INTERNAL MARKET

Like many merchandise companies, Eat My Logo had to pivot dramatically when the business events it relied on for bulk sales stopped overnight last March. It looked instead to postable products to send to those working from home to try and get remote staff engaged.

Fun initiatives such as cookie decorating over Zoom took off and the company’s postable brownies, biscuits and cupcakes provedapopular option for firms looking to motivate isolated WFH employees. “People still eat and companies still had money to spend. We looked to provide something that distributors could sell beyond PPE,” says director Andy Poar. With most distributors dealing with marketers, they missed out on the internal market, says Poar. Half of EML’s orders are from internal events for employer engagement. HR isn’t always linked to marketing so distributors may not have focused on this area.

Some of the company’s biggest orders have been for internal events – 40,000 for Sky, 55,000 for Amazon – and the use of its products for internal projects is something that is likely to persist, says Poar. Employee engagement is a more important subject than ever with growing skills shortages. Companies have to be able to keep their staff engaged and show that they care, or they will walk.

Generating a warm feeling is important, and few things are more emotive than a tasty treat. With sustainability a hot topic, Eat My Logo has introduced eco flow wrap and bio compostable donut pots. It has also invented a new style of cupcake that is individually wrapped to ensure foods are kept safe. The company tried to educate distributors about the potential for edibles through webinars during lockdown. Although distributors understand the long-term branding effect that something like a mug has, they’re less clued up on how a transitory product like a cupcake or donut works, says Poar. “The effect is different, but people love it. There’s the ‘tweet before you eat’ effect where you get to interact with it,” he says. “It engenders good will.”

GREEN BOTTLES… CARTONS AND CANS

Drinks specialist Justadrop has looked to innovation and sustainability to keep forging ahead. It supplies water packaged in bottles made from recycled plastic (RPET) and glass, due to the demand for eco ‘green’ products, and has introduced water in 330ml cartons and 330ml cans. It also supplies a variety of drinks including beer and Prosecco in 250ml cans. Due to sustainability there is a growing demand for restaurants, hotels and corporate boardrooms to have refillable glass. Justadrop supplies refillable bottles, with an extensive range offering four colours branded directly on to the glass.

The company exports world-wide, but some countries are more difficult to export food and drink to than others, says managing director, John Godfrey. “Due to Brexit there has to be careful completion of all the paperwork to avoid rejections at the borders. In particular we must not overlook that Northern Ireland has to have special paperwork due to the Northern Ireland Protocol,” he says.

With exporters having to familiarise themselves with such concepts as country of origin, product codes and EORI numbers, getting the paperwork right has become essential. “If you get the paperwork right there should be no delays. We have added an extra week to all delivery times to be on safe side,” he says.

A REFRESHING CHANGE

With business not as usual over the past 18 months, The Sweet People took the opportunity to reinvent itself and its product offer. It has been challenging, admits director Mandy Hastie. “The entire landscape of our business changed. Overnight we went from producing high quantities of low value items consigned to an individual address – to higher value ‘gift items’ going to individual addresses,” she says.

A new range of edible gifts saw individual pots of jelly beans and mints replaced with postal style gift boxes filled with delicious treats including chocolate bars and truffles made in Leighton Buzzard. With budgets switching from marketing to HR, the company produced gift packs to incentivise, motivate and retain people working from home.

“We anticipate that this trend is going to continue as companies look to new ways to communicate, motivate and retain staff now working from home,” says Hastie. “Our most popular gift boxes included afternoon tea boxes, breakfast meeting boxes and we even did a Pancake Day edition.” Other changes include offering a fulfilment service for the first time, a rebrand and website refresh, and moving to a more sustainable product offering. “We no longer buy packaging from the Far East and are now sourcing almost all of our product range from within the UK,” she says. “We are moving to a more sustainable
product range which doesn’t use any plastic.”

With business returning to pre-COVID levels very quickly the challenge is to increase resources, both people and stock to meet demand.

SENDING CAKE TO THE WORLD

Popkakery has noticed that indulgence is getting a healthy makeover with a boom in sales of vegan products which have gone up by 32% reflecting trends in eating. “We are repeatedly being asked for products that cater for various diets and tick all the boxes – dairy free, egg free, gluten free, and so on,” says director Melissa Damjanovic Darbari.

With so many different dietary requirements the vegan range makes it easy for corporate clients to cater for different tastes and needs. Products clearly display all ingredients and possible allergens. The letterbox has proved to be the new route to market and an expanded range of letterbox products are easy to send anywhere in the UK and further afield into Europe or the rest of the world. “During the pandemic we have almost exclusively been sending postal edible gifts in the UK as well as Europe and further afield,” says Darbari. “We have sent our products as far as Hong Kong, Australia and South Africa. We can fully brand the postal boxes as well as personalise and brand the products inside therefore offering clients a complete solution for a promotional product.”

Latest products are boxes of delicious muffins, a breakfast pack and hot chocolate stick with marshmallows, which also has a vegan version. A new range of Christmas products has also been launched.

CHRISTMAS IS STILL COMING

With more employees than ever working from home last year, advent calendars assumed a new importance as companies looked to give staff a little boost going into a period that is usually about more face to face celebration. Despite the arrival of more and more advent options, from Lego to craft gin, the traditional chocolate version still holds sway, says Lara Leech of Distinctive Confectionery. “Absolutely – 100 hundred per cent. Our shaped calendars are very popular for businesses as they are so premium. Chocolate advent calendars have held up really well.” Distinctive Confectionery has a massive
selection and specialises in chocolate brands such as Lindt, Milka and Mars, and the shaped versions such as trucks, hearts, and this year, three versions of advent laptops.

As well as the new shapes, there is plenty of innovation in the materials used. Yet again, eco is important with compostable and biodegradable inlays. Branding can be front and back, and behind the calendar doors.

Beyond Christmas, there is still plenty of sweet temptation, with the company having launched a new range of retro sweets which can come in sweet bouquets. This year, more than ever, the message has been to order in a timely fashion, with supply chain disruption hitting related areas such as cardboard and tinfoil. With Valentine’s Day and Easter looming, it’s a message worth heeding.

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